With "The Less You Know, the Better" (Verve), only his fourth studio album in 15 years, pioneering hip-hop DJ Josh Davis – a k a DJ Shadow – creates what is essentially a mix tape of all his favorite moves, a grand tour of many of the genres and styles he’s explored.
On his 1996 debut, “Endtroducing …,” Shadow built a magnificent alternative world entirely out of snippets of carefully assembled samples. Brooding, hypnotic and evocative in the way a great movie score is, “Entroducing …” created a nearly impossible standard that few hip-hop albums have been able to duplicate, let alone Shadow himself.
Next to the deeply integrated sounds on that debut, “The Less You Know, the Better” doesn’t hang together quite as well. From heavy metal riffs (“Border Crossing”) to hybrids of funk and skittering drum ‘n’ bass (“Run for Your Life”), the album puts Shadow’s omnivorous range on display. But within these tracks he doesn’t explore as widely or deeply as his best work, often hanging on to one or two ideas for the duration of the track. “I Gotta Rokk” clings stubbornly to its glam-rock crunch for more than six tedious minutes. “Warning Call” summons bad flashbacks to second-tier electro-rock from the ‘80s. And “Give Me Back the Nights,” a dirgy, spoken-word rant, suggests it was conceived as a provocation or cruel joke.
Shadow also flirts with more conventional songs, putting vocalists at the forefront of “I’ve Been Trying” and “Sad and Lonely” with acceptable if hardly transcendent results. But when he focuses on dark, shape-shifting mood pieces (“Tedium,” “Circular Logic,” “Enemy Lines”) he remains unmatched.